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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

As he looked mournfully at Sibyl


'I

don't like him,' gasped Sibyl. 'I have never thought about it. That is only Aunt Marion.'

Mr. Loftus sighed, and his gray cheek blanched a little. He had built much on the hope of this marriage. He had a tender regard for Sibyl, whose emotional and impulsive nature appealed to him, and filled him with apprehension as for a butterfly in a manufactory, which may injure itself any moment. And he knew Doll was genuinely in love with her. It would be grievous if she were married for her money. And Wilderleigh was dying stone by stone and acre by acre for want of that money.

As he looked mournfully at Sibyl, an expression came into her wide eyes like that which he had seen in the eyes of some timid wild animal brought to bay. He recognised that, like a shy bird near its nest, she was defending in impotent despair of broken white wings something which was part of her life, which was going from her, which _he_ was taking away.

'It is you I love,' she said, and her small hand ceased trembling and became cold in his.

For a moment both were stunned alike, and then some of the grayness of age and suffering crept suddenly from his face to hers as she felt his hand involuntarily slacken its clasp of hers.

'My child,' he said at last, with great difficulty and with greater tenderness, 'it is very many years since I gave

up all thought of marriage. I am old enough to be your----' He might have said 'grandfather' with truth. He meant to say it, but as he approached the word he could not wound her with it.

'I know,' she interrupted hurriedly. 'I don't mind. That is nothing to me.'

'And my life,' he said, 'what little there is left of it, hangs by a thread.'

'I know,' she said again--'I have thought of that. I have thought of nothing but you since I first met you a year ago. But if I might only love and serve you and be with you! And I am so rich, too. If I might only take away those money troubles which you once spoke of long ago! If I might only give you everything I have! The money is the smallest part of it--oh, such a little, little part compared to----' And she looked imploringly at him.

He was deeply moved.

'My child,' he said again, and the ominous repetition of the word shook her fragile edifice of hopes to its brittle foundation, 'you have always looked upon me as a friend, have you not?'

She shook her head.

'Well, then,' he added, correcting himself, 'as one who cared for and understood you, and whose earnest wish was to see you happy?'

She did not answer.

He had known difficult hours, but none more difficult than this. He felt as if he were trying with awkward hands to hold a butterfly without injuring it, in order to release it from the pane of glass against which it was beating its butterfly heart out.

'To see you happy,' he went on, with authority as well as tenderness in his level voice. 'I should never see that; I should have no real'--he hesitated--'affection for you at all if I allowed you to make such a woeful mistake in your early youth before you know what love and life are. They are terrible things, Sibyl; I have known them. This beautiful generous feeling which you have for me is not love, and I should be base indeed to allow you to wreck your life upon it, your youth upon the rock of my age. You offer you know not what; you would sacrifice you know not what.' He smiled gravely at her, endeavouring to soothe her growing agitation. 'It would be like taking the Koh-i-Noor out of the hand of a child. I could not do it.'


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